Crow in flight

Crow in flight

The joy of flight

The joy of flight

“He who binds himself to a joy
Doth the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sun rise.”
— William Blake


“The very flight of birds is a writing waiting to be read.”
— Loren Eiseley

Cranes at sunset, from the bridge at Fort Kearney Historical Recreation Area

Cranes at sunset, from the bridge at Fort Kearney Historical Recreation Area

“The Sand Hill Cranes”
by Lola Haskins, from The Poets Guide to the Birds, edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser

The blue air fills with cries of regret.
The cranes are streams, rivers.
They danced on the night prairie,
leapt at each other, quivering.

The long bones of sand hill cranes
know their next pond.  Not us.
When something is too beautiful
we do not understand to leave.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes returning to the Platte River at sunset

Sandhill cranes returning to the Platte River at sunset

“Migration of the Sandhill Cranes
Sulphur Springs Valley, Arizona”
by Alison Hawthorne Deming, from  “Short Treatise on Birds”

Perhaps they would forgive us our
greed if they lived with moral codes.
Instead they take our leavings, corn-
fields crowded with migrants ’till they
rise, wheel, stream apart in columns
then join again.  If they have a
purpose, it must be communal
flight, swarms that meet to read the sky.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Bird watchers gather for the evening move to the roosts near the Rowe Sanctuary

Bird watchers gather for the evening move to the roosts near the Rowe Sanctuary


Skagit Valley snow geese in flight

I love day-tripping to the Skagit Valley to see the flocks of snow geese that winter in the area.  Each October, they migrate from their nesting grounds in Wrangel Island off the Siberian Coast.  They spend the winter feeding in the fields of the Skagit Valley and roosting in Skagit Bay before returning north in March.  You have a good chance of seeing the snow geese near Conway and Fir Island, just south of Mount Vernon.  They are an awe-inspiring sight.

Sky filled with snow geese in flight

Incoming, ready for landing

Snow geese feeding on the wet fields of the Skagit Valley

Taking wing

The flock settles in a new feeding area.

Hummingbird enjoying the year's first blossoms

I was enjoying the beauty of the first tree blossoms against a blue sky when I noticed a tiny hummingbird flitting from flower to flower.  I love how poets describe hummingbirds: 

  • “Thou insect bird!  Thou plumed bee!”  — Royall Tyler, “Ode to the Hummingbird”
  • “Enchanted thing,”  “Darling sprite”  — Jess Campbell Rae, “Hummingbird”
  • “Bright whirligig” — Cyrus Curtis III Cassells, “The Hummingbird”
  • “A flash of harmless lightening, A mist of rainbow dyes,” — John Banister Tabb, “The Hummingbird”
  • “A pure vibration” — Arnold Craig, “You Are the Hummingbird That Comes”

The Humming-bird
by Emily Dickinson

A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel;
A resonance of emerald,
A rush of cochineal;
And every blossom on the bush
Adjusts its tumbled head, —
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy morning’s ride.

Hummingbird eyeing blossom

Bright whirligig

Plumed bee

A pure vibration

And then the hummingbird flitted away, and I was left to gaze at "just" blossoms.

Vagabond Swans

January 27, 2010

Trumpeter swan in flight

Pair of trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans overhead

“The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life. . . . The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds—how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday-lives—and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!”
     — John Burroughs, Birds and Poets

Several thousand trumpeter swans winter in the Skagit Valley.  While we were up north, my husband and I drove to the Johnson/Debay Swan Reserve in Mount Vernon to look for the swans.  They weren’t nearly as numerous as the snow geese, but they were still an amazing sight.

Two swans coming in for a landing




Trumpeter swans at their winter feeding grounds in Mount Vernon

Trio of trumpeter swans in Mount Vernon

Earthly Eternity

January 26, 2010

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt march, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”
     — Rachel Carson

Standing in the presence of thousands of wintering snow geese, I certainly felt like I was witnessing part of a great, eternal cycle of life.  One’s spirit soars on the wings of these magnificent birds.

Snow geese in flight

Snow geese on the wing

Snow goose passes overhead

Snow geese uprising

Flock of snow geese

“. . . the wing bedlam of flocks rising from marshland roosts.”
     — William Fiennes, The Snow Geese

Here, woodcut artist Charles Beck captures the beauty of wintering snow geese.  You can see more of his woodcuts at

Charles Beck's woodcut print of Snow Geese

Plumed Lightening: the Heron

September 3, 2009

Great Blue Heron at Green Lake

Great Blue Heron at Green Lake

Blue Heron

Blue Heron

Blue Heron

Blue Heron

I always look for this Great Blue Heron on my walks around Green Lake.  I love this poem’s description of a heron as  “plumed lightening.”

The Heron
by Peter Jones

It stands on one leg
head-hunched, with no poise
of secret attraction, no eye
of mystery to hypnotise eel
or mouse.

Equivocal serenity,
that takes in the marsh’s
complaisant track, covering
the journey to the shallows.

The heron is still
and stays so;
until plumed lightening strikes
from its endless patience.

by Ted Kooser

I have been watching a Great Blue Heron
fish in the cattails, easing ahead
with the stealth of a lover composing a letter,
the hungry words looping and blue
as they coil and uncoil, as they kiss and sting.

Let’s say that he holds down an everyday job
in an office.  His blue suit blends in.
Long days swim beneath the glass top
of his desk, each one alike.  On the lip
of each morning, a bubble trembles.

No one has seen him there, writing a letter
to a woman he loves.  His pencil is poised
in the air like the beak of a bird.
He would spear the whole world if he could,
toss it and swallow it live.

Heron in flight

Heron in flight

Heron Rises from the Dark, Summer Pond
by Mary Oliver

So heavy
is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings

and she turns
from thick water,
from the black sticks

of the summer pond,
and slowly
rises into the air
and is gone.

Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself —
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.

And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn’t a miracle

but the common thing,
this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body

into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.